Blanco, Richard. “City of a Hundred Fires” (Pitt Poetry Series), University of Pittsburgh, 1998.
Coming of Age
Before being chosen to read a poem at the inauguration of President Obama, I am pretty sure that Richard Blanco was just another obscure name. Now he has achieved national, if not international prominence so it is only natural that we go back and have a look at him, “City of a Hundred Fires” was his first book length collection of poetry and it takes us on a journey into Cuban-American society and we watch as it comes of age. Those involved here and bilingual children of Cubans whose lives and personalities have been fed by both American and Cuban culture—their parents’ nostalgia and their own very real lives as Americans. Blanco, himself, was born in Madrid but his parents are Cuban and he was raised in the United States. He therefore can understand the mix of cultures within himself and is able to show us this in beautiful evocative poetry that brims with description. There are three aspects to his life and this is what we read in his poems: learning about and adapting to the culture of America, translating what this all means, and maintaining his own Cuban roots. This is the poetry of exile that is filled with image and rhythm and in them he shares the truth of the Cuban-American experience. We feel love, we feel loss and we feel hope. There is both vibrancy and diversity here and the book of poems becomes a document of culture and a testimony to those who share the duality of the two countries.
Blanco sees Cuba through his parents’ exile as it comes to terms racially and culturally with America, or specifically Miami. This is poetry about the reality of being a culture uprooted, the price of exile and the new life in a new place. There is conflict and there is nostalgia and we see what it means to the poet to grow up in Miami with that hyphenated experience. He pulls us into the poems and we feel that what is said here is the product of two peoples living side-by-side inside yet another person and we see Cuba of the 1950’s as well as Blanco reaching maturity and coming of age in his new home…and it is all quite exciting.